- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2000

Unless "something falls into our laps," in the words of general manager George McPhee, the Washington Capitals probably will sit on the sidelines for today's 3 p.m. trade deadline.

McPhee said yesterday there was "nothing, not a thing" on the horizon as far as a deal was concerned for the Caps.

But that does not mean other teams have not been busy. There has been speculation that Mark Messier, who was almost a Cap three seasons ago, would be dealt by Vancouver to a team in the New York City metropolitan area.

Center Brendan Morrison and defenseman Brad Bombardir are being dangled as bait by talent-rich New Jersey, possibly trying to deal with Anaheim.

Nikolai Khabibulin, the standout Phoenix goalie who has held out all season, may be on the market, and Philadelphia reportedly would love to have him depending on what it has to give up.

The market has been unusually active the past week, as if teams were jumping in early to make sure the guy they wanted still was there. Rick Tocchet, a Cap for 13 games in 1997, was sent from Phoenix to the Flyers for Mikael Renberg; the Coyotes got tougher by acquiring Lyle Odelin from the Devils; Ray Bourque and Dave Andreychuk joined Colorado after being traded by Boston; the Devils got defenseman Vladimir Malakhov from Montreal; and Buffalo acquired Doug Gilmour and Chris Gratton.

"We're comfortable with our team the way it is right now, but if anything fell into our laps, we'd look at it," McPhee said yesterday, leaving the door ajar for a deal.

Actually, he should be comfortable with the way his club has performed since Christmas, going 24-6-6, climbing from 13th place in the 15-team Eastern Conference to third and for the moment claiming home-ice advantage in the playoffs. The club, which does not have an abundance of potential top-10 scorers, has been winning with a tight-checking, defensive style. Washington is 14 games above .500 (36-22-11) while outscoring the opposition by an average of less than a third of a goal a game on the season.

That in itself has become a factor in whether the team gets involved in a deal. There is a close chemistry, something management does not want to mess with. How a player fits in would mean as much as his potential to contribute.

There also is the injury situation, which has taken a turn for the worse after a season of relative good health. Left wing James Black (broken leg) is back on skates, center Jan Bulis (dislocated shoulder) may be ready by the playoffs, right wing Richard Zednik (concussion) should be ready in a few days and defenseman Brendan Witt (groin) may be rested tomorrow night against the New York Islanders as a precaution.

Washington nearly jumped deep into the Bourque picture even though the club got a late start compared to other teams. The defenseman, who spent 21 seasons in Boston, let it be known he would like to be traded to a team with definite Stanley Cup potential, preferably an Eastern Conference team. The player said he would have prefered either Philadelphia or Detroit because those cities would mean a relatively quick commute back to his family in Boston.

Boston contacted "six or seven" teams, according to GM Harry Sinden, and five Detroit, Philadelphia, Colorado, St. Louis and New Jersey responded, with "Washington expressing some interest" at the last minute, he said.

While nobody is confirming it, it is believed Washington threw its hat in at the urging of Steve Fryer, Bourque's agent, because Boston is a 75-minute flight away and the Caps have as good a shot at the Cup as almost any team. But the price Sinden was asking was prohibitive.

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